The FT reports that bacteria resistant to the so-called “last resort” anti-biotic, colistin, are growing on farms in China. In the absence of new medical innovations, these bacteria could become unstoppable.
The 2015 discovery in China of bacteria with mcr-1, the colistin resistance gene, sparked fears over the future of human health. Margaret Chan, head of the World Health Organization, said last year that medicine risked “going back to the dark ages” without action to spur development of new antibiotics and to preserve the dwindling numbers that remain effective.
Since the discovery in animals on farms where colistin was widely used as a growth enhancer, bacteria with mcr-1 have been identified in more than 30 countries including the US, Germany, Spain, Thailand and Vietnam. A patient in the US was found to have been infected with e-Coli carrying the gene last year.
Developed for clinical use in 1959, colistin was little used on human patients because of side effects including kidney damage. But it has been thrust under a spotlight as resistance to the more commonly used family of last-resort antibiotics known as carbapenems has risen, provoking alarm among health professionals.
E-Coli bacteria with the mcr-1 gene were found among patients at Chinese hospitals in two large cities, according to a study in the Lancet last month. The incidence of resistant strains was around 1 per cent, the researchers said. “The emergence of mcr-1 heralds the breach of the last group of antibiotics,” said Professor Tim Walsh of Cardiff University, one of the paper’s authors.
According to a separate paper published this week in Nature Microbiology, the same team found high rates of bacteria with colistin resistance genes in flies at poultry farms in China, suggesting the insects could spread resistance.
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